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Week 11.5: Prerequisites and Reflection

With classes now in full swing it’s hard to devote time to any pleasure reading, much less Infinite Jest–so I apologize for my late post. In terms of Infinite Jest, I have two different thoughts that keep coming back. The first has to do with one of my classes, a course on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have been so entranced by this book it reminds me of starting Infinite Jest, the intricacy unmatched and the ground covered seemingly limitless. It’s exciting–until I realized that with similar themes and motifs that seem to inform the other, (Hamlet, suicide, paralysis, humor, attention to detail, references, among other things) makes me want to go back and reread Infinite Jest once I finish Ulysses (clearly Joyce came first). This feels like crazy talk and yet I am already starting to see how finishing Ulysses will better my reading of Foster Wallace. As many English professors have told me, great literature gets better the more you read and the more you know. To understand the references to and imitations of Ulysses in Infinite Jest opens up a powerful new reading.

So should I just start over?

Well here are my three questions for people to answer this week (along with any other comments you have on the book, where you are and what you’re thinking):

  • What books do you think are necessary preparation (or prerequisites) for reading Infinite Jest? What would you like to have read before hand (or glad you read beforehand) in order to “get” the book?
  • What would you do differently if there were another Read-a-thon next summer? What would you change if we could start over?
  • Would you ever consider reading Infinite Jest again? Under what circumstances?

Happy reading and keep it up. We’re almost done. It seems silly to give page numbers at this point but let’s aim to finish by the end of the month! That’s next Wednesday September 30th! Jacob suggested Tunnel City…

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Week 10: 09/09/09!

I want to start off by thanking Jacob for really stepping up last week and writing a reflection that really got me thinking about the reading and this idea of being “boring” or, in my interpretation “apathetic” (or even better, exchanging emotions for sensory experiences). A good page goal for this week would be somewhere around 795. It makes me wonder if the characters who seem the most stuck are addicted to an emotion just like they would be to any substance. Anyone else who would like to post be sure to get in contact with me, and even though we’re running out of weeks, I for one am really excited to hear what everyone has to say.

Also, I have mentioned this before, but DFW’s unfinished project The Pale King looks a lot at the subject of boredom, and several excerpts have been published in the New Yorker. Here’s one for those of you who are interested. It’s about an IRS agent who starts hallucinating due to boredom, which in my opinion makes boredom just like any other drug in it’s own way.

But in honor of 09/09/09 I have some quotes from pages whose number includes the number 9, and see how their meaning has been informed by our further reading, or in the case of some of the things we haven’t gotten to, what do you think they mean.

  • “I’d tell you all you want and more, if the sounds I made could be what you hear” (9)
  • “The local constabulary were shall we say unprepared for an Entertainment like this.” (90)
  • “Sometimes he finds out he believes something that he doesn’t even know he believed until it exits his mouth in front of five anxious little hairless plump trusting clueless faces.” (99)
  • “I kept thinking I really should go up and check on The Darkness.” (900)
  • “‘Does somebody have an explanation why there’s human flesh on the hall window upstairs?’ he said. ‘We’re conversing here,’ Pemulis told him.” (909)
  • “Untitled. Unfinished. UNRELEASED.” (990)
  • “And, it goes w/o saying, w/o one of those video-recorded suicide notes or fond farewells from the terminally ill, which digital halloos from beyond the grave were, after a breif and videophony-like vogue, by the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar used only by the tasteless and trailer-park tacky, w/the tackiest using Tableaux w/ famous dead Elvis-/Carson-grade celebrities to convey their farewells. (999)

And then this one doesn’t have a 9 in the page number, but it’s in honor of Beetles Rock Band which came out today:

  • “‘I want to tell you,’ the voice on the phone said, ‘My head is filled with things to say.'” (32)

You’ll notice there are only 8 quotes here. Add a 9th! No matter how random it seems, you can never underestimate DFW and Infinite Jest.

One final note: as Jacob mentioned, classes start this week at Williams. This of course means it will become incredibly difficult for some of us to stay on pace. I was wondering if anyone on campus who has been following this blog would be interested in actually meeting up to discuss or just give moral support as we come to the end of our Infinite Summer. Post a comment with your ideas of what kind of Infinite Jestivities you’d like to see on campus this month! Happy Reading!

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Week 9: On Being Boring

Hi all, I’m Jacob, subbing for Chris this week. (The new goalpost for this week is probably p. 720 or so.) First, from this week’s chunk:

“One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.” (695)

Hip, empty masks get satirized throughout IJ. Before Joelle reaches Molly Notkin’s bathroom to do cocaine, she has to endure the people alluding to a cha-cha at the “theoretical party” on 231. I do think people should get to have an ironic mask now and again—I remember making stupid jokes to my older brother that when I was his age I had to learn to avoid pretending to be older than you really are because that game tires quickly—but Hal knows as much as you need an ironic mask to avoid being emotionally arrested like Mario, you also need a vulnerable self. The so-called American thing about Hal is that he picks one side to hate. (Remember American consumers and their videophone masks?)

But maybe that’s to be expected at ETA. The vulnerable self will lose you a match. As far as deLint can tell, John Wayne is total-roboto, whereas Hal, unlike the other boys, will let a match get to him emotionally (682). Whatever emotion Hal has, though, he doesn’t think it amounts to much: he admits there’s “pretty much nothing at all” inside him on 694, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so odd for his Dad to be posing as a therapist to find a pulse, back in the opening.

In fact, back in the prologue, Hal’s the kid pleading with the university suits, saying “please don’t think I don’t care” as he alludes to Rousseau and Hegel. Yeah, bookish probably only scratches the surface for Hal, but he doesn’t talk that way to other people at ETA. It can be fun to bother the dictionary freak, but everybody has to spend so much time on normative grammar and annular physics that surely nobody wants to hear from Hal on Hegel. That stuff’s for personal consumption only. When he’s at ETA he’s something else:

 “I’m a student at a tennis academy that sees itself as a prophylactic. … I am just about as apolitical as someone can be. I am out of all loops but one, by design. I’m sitting here naked with my foot in a bucket.” (note 110, p. 1016). Hal has his worldy wit, but he’s limited to his bubble.

So let’s talk about Williams. Class starts up again next week, and the whole point is the opposite of protecting us from things. Heavy stuff will come up here and there in casual conversation, but I fear sometimes for all the interesting things we all work on, it looks like I’m sitting around with my foot in a bucket. Does this happen to you? Last spring a friend wondered aloud whether she was getting more boring. It was a total crap notion, but running through my head was me too. This vague worry, I think, owes something to living too much in mastery-mode, delivering the goods. I don’t blame Hal for making an end-run around the grief counselor by delivering fake emotion, but with so many young people delivering goods to authority figures, DFW invents Lyle. The “more paradoxical Schtitt/Lyle/Incandenza school” makes the point that “achievement doesn’t automatically confer interior worth” (693). Here I think of DFW’s Kenyon speech, where he asserts that whatever you worship—beauty, intellect, power—you can never have enough. It will be real interesting to see Hal go through a tough task-mastering season of the Whataburger and his college boards without feeding his numbing addiction. Could we see a not so boring Hal? What are your thoughts on being boring?

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Infinite Ephs Week 8 (528-619)

Greetings from Disneyland. I’m on vacation, getting to spend a little time curled up with Infinite Jest after weeks of working. In the hopes of trying to get us back to schedule, I am posting the pages for this week, but remember it doesn’t matter where you are in the book now, you can always make a contribution to our discussion. As an experiment for this week, instead of putting down talking points, I’m going to put a couple random passages from the reading and I’ll ask you to post your reactions and insights based on either the current reading or any of your previous reading (because the book is kinda all over the place, you don’t need to have read the passage in context to make a comment). So here we go:

Lenz says the Ennet graduates who often come back and take up living-room space sitting around comparing horror stories about former religious cults they’d tried joining as part of their struggle to try to quit with the drugs and alcohol are not w/o a certain naive charm but are basically naive. Lenz details that robes and mass weddings and head-shavings and pampheleteering in airports and selling flowers on median strips and signing away inheritances and never sleeping and marrying whoever they tell you and then never seeing who you marry are small potatoes in terms of bizarre-cult criterion. Lenz tells Green he knows individuals who’ve heard shit that would blow Green’s mind out his ear-sockets. (559)

And another:

Having no choice now not to fight and things simplify radically, divisions collapse. Gately’s just one part of something bigger he can’t control. His face in the left hadlight has dropped into it’s fight-expression of ferocious good cheer. He says he’s responsible for these people on these private grounds tonight and is part of this whether he wants to be or not, and can they talk this out because he doesn’t want to fight them. He says twice very distinctly that he does not want to fight them. He’s no longer divided enough to think about whether this is true. (612)

Happy reading and be sure to leave any thoughts and comments you have!

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Infinite Eph Week 7 (Catch Up Week + Mario)

I have gotten a few comments and emails from the people who are still out there reading and it seems that I am not the only one who needs some time to catch up. So I’m not posting any new pages this week (and the schedule will pick up again next week). Also remember that you can always post your thoughts on anything you’ve read in the book, these bullet points are just meant to get us talking.

To go back a little bit, from pages 312-317 we learn a lot about Mario, the middle of the Incandenza boys. He is severely deformed, but of the characters in the novel seems to be the one with the best heart. So to bring some different threads together here are some things to think about:

  • As a result of his deformity, Mario is described as being “pain-resistant” in a novel that is filled with all sorts of pain, both physical and psychic. What does this tell us about Mario’s place in the novel?
  • Madame Psychosis talks a lot about the deformed, and sees herself as being so beautiful that she hides her face behind a veil. Mario is an avid listener of her radio show–any thoughts about what we are to make of these two?
  • Mario is also Hal and Orin’s brother, and while his relationship with Orin is almost non-existent, his relationship with Hal is complicated. Mario is the older brother, but Hal is the one taking care of him. What do you have to say about this relationship?
  • And finally, Mario is in some ways following his father JOI by continuing to be interested in film making. What can we learn about Mario through his films (Tennis and the Feral Prodigy pgs 172-176) ? Is Mario like us and just an audience to the book’s events, looking at everything through a particular lens?

Hope everyone is enjoying the reading. Keep posting (even if it’s just to say you’re still reading) and I look forward to seeing the different thoughts and experiences reading. Have a great week!

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Infinite Ephs Week 6*

I realize that the last post might have turned some people off because of the number of pages, but hopefully people are still hanging in there and focusing more on the reading experience than where they are in the book (I am certainly not as far as I should be). The scheduled reading is *442-527 for anyone keeping up with the schedule. I also don’t know if the prompts are helpful at all so this week I’m just going to throw out one thing, but if you get a chance to respond also comment on your experience with the posts and if there is anything that should be done differently. Any all feedback is greatly appreciated, and it’s still not too late to join in:

  • There is a lot of talk in this book about paying attention, whether it is Don Gately who can switch his attention on and off like a light or people just watching a tennis match. Sometimes it’s so difficult to pay attention to everything that’s going on in the book (did everyone catch “The Spider” being named as addiction…remember Week 1?) that I feel like Infinite Jest is a book about paying attention. Paying attention to our problems, taking an active stake in our entertainment…but paying attention is hard work. To me this makes perfect sense considering DFW’s last, unfinished work (“The Pale King” to Publishers, “The Big One” to him) focuses on boredom. Thoughts?

Hopefully the reading is going well. Be sure to post any of your thoughts or sections from the reading that interest you and we can talk about them (or just check in to say you’re still reading). Enjoy!

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Infinite Ephs Week 4 (258-342)/Week 5 (343-442)*

Hello everyone–I realize it’s been over a week and I apologize for being late. First off I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been posting and to encourage you to stick with it (are people getting more into it now and finding a pace that works for them?).

I would  like to especially thank Sophmom for her thoughtful and enthusiastic comments on the reading. Sophmom has been over the last few weeks an integral part of our discussions, and I wish her all the best.

In order to keep us somewhere close to the schedule, I’m also going to tell you that Week 5 reading (which was supposed to be from August 5th to August 12th) was 343-442. But a note on the schedule. *Since I have been posting irregularly, I  am aiming to be around page 400 by next Wednesday (August 12th). Now that the business stuff is over, just a thought or two to get us talking.

  • Here’s an anonymous comment I got on last week’s reading on one of the many places this conversation is happening, and I thought it was an interesting point:

I’m giving up.It’s too much rambling while under the influence or writing based on the author believing that under the influence he was wonderfully imaginative. It is interesting that the book has led to a cottage industry in manuals explaining what the author meant. Good luck to you.

What do people think? Anyone want to come to DFW’s defense? I think this comment does give us, at the very least, a platform to talk about drugs (and all other sorts of addictions) in the novel.

  • In the last section of the week 3 reading we learn more about JOI’s suicide and get more of the gruesome details. We talked a little bit back in the Week 1 update about DFW’s own suicide, and I got the chance to read DFW’s commencement address to Kenyon from 2005 called Life is Water and the references he makes to suicide become both eerie and tragic in light of his death:

Think of the old cliche about the mind being “an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many cliches, so lame and banal on the sruface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms nearly always shoot themselves in…the head.

Or this one:

None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to thirty, or maybe even fifty, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.

Any thoughts?

Thanks again to everyone and I hope you continue reading and enjoying Infinite Jest. I’ll try to post between now and August 12th with some thoughts but be sure to leave your comments here.

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Infinite Ephs Week 3(181-258)

I’m sorry everybody for being late this week. It feels silly posting the new reading assignment two days late, considering there is so much to talk about already, but I figure it’s a shorter assignment than most weeks and the weekend is a perfect time to play catchup. Here just a few little things to think about:

  • First off, I love the section that Sophmom mentioned she was reading in the week 2 update, the one between JOI and his father. Here’s one of the quotes that I love that I think is DFW talking about Infinite Jest: “It will do what it’s made for and do it perfectly, but only when stimulated by someone who’s made it his business to know it’s tricks and seams, as a body” (159). Any thoughts on the scene or the book as a whole so far?
  • Second, what did everyone think about Mario’s movie Tennis and the Feral Prodigy from pages 172-176? I love this section because the imperative allows some of the more general “life advice” (if you call it that) hit closer to home. “Sometimes words that seem to express really invoke” (175). Did anyone find this section striking for any reason?
  • And finally to get you started on this new reading, we meet a very important character in this first section–Madame Psychosis. I’m not going to give any pointers on this one (unless you want some) but feel free to give your thoughts on this section or on her as a character. Some really interesting stuff.

Keep up the reading and please post your thoughts (don’t feel limited at all by these prompts either, it’s just what I’ve been thinking of) or contact me with your questions and comments. Still trying to recruit people who want to do updates and things…Happy reading!

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Week 2 Update

Hey everybody,

Sorry that this update is a little late, but to be on pace you’ll probably want to be around page 150 or so to get to 181 by Wednesday. Here are just a few things from the reading that I’ve found interesting:

  • There’s a great section from 109-121 where groups of younger tennis kids are talking with their older mentors (and the narrative moves from room to room), and at one point Hal concludes that the reason the school pushes them so hard is that “The suffering unites us”(113)–would you call the kind of hard work the book demands a kind of suffering? Does it unite us as we read it together? Is it better reading this book in groups for that reason? Or not?
  • On pages 140-142 there is an essay written by a young Hal that looks at the evolving nature of the hero. Hal ends the essay saying “We await, I predict, the hero of non-action, the catatonic hero, the one beyond calm, divorced from all stimulus, carried here and there across sets by burly extras whose blood sings with retrograde amines.” Do any of the characters we’ve met so far fit this portrait of a hero (or what do you think of this hero)? Or any image of a hero (offered by Hal or our own experience with other literary heroes)? Does Infinite Jest have a hero at all?
  • Last but not least, what did you think about the section from 145-151 about why videophones never became popular? Do you agree with DFW?

Always looking forward to hearing your thoughts–you can post here or at infinite-eph.blogspot.com! Have a great week and check back on Wednesday for next week’s page numbers!

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Week 2 (Pages 95-181)

Another week begins! I hope the reading is going well for everyone and that you’re enjoying the book–the comments that have been coming in are really great and have got me thinking about a bunch of different stuff.  If you’re just joining us, reading the comments and posts from last week is a great way to catch up. Also, please feel free to write about anything you find interesting or enjoy and don’t worry about being behind (or ahead of) the “set” pace; if you’re ahead, just make sure to try not and spoil anything for the rest of us. Here are some of the things I’ve been thinking about:

  • Let’s start with the scene at the end of last week’s reading just to lead us in to this week–We meet Marathe and Steeply in a scene that I find hysterical (that image of Steeply in a dress, falling down the hill is priceless). Are there any other scenes that have made you laugh? This scene is basically a Monty Python, cross-dressing slapstick, but what other kinds of humor have you found? What scenes? (and don’t pretend to pretend to pretend to not know what I’m talking about)
  • This question about humor (in light of what some people commented on in the update) leads me to just report a couple of observations from what we’ve already read, and leave you to think about them. The first quote comes from page 71:

“sarcasm and jokes were often the bottle in which clinical depressives sent out their most plangent screams for someone to care and help them.”

When I first read this, I couldn’t help but get chills thinking that DFW was talking about himself.  (Much like JG and Sophmom were getting at with the Forward)

  • The second comes from the filmography (note 24 in the endnotes–if you’re skipping them, you’re missing out) and describes a film by JOI called “The Joke” (pg 988-989):

“Two Ikegami Ec-35 video cameras in the theater record the ‘film”s audience and project the resultant raster onto screen–the theater audience watching itself watch itself get the obvious ‘joke’ and become increasingly self-concious and uncomfortable and hostile supposedly comprises the fil’ms ‘antinarrative flow.'”

When I read this, I couldn’t help but feel like DFW was talking about Infinite Jest (the book, not the movie in the book). What do you think about all this? It’s like JG was saying about choices in the construction. I feel like I am always coming across moments when the work is referencing itself.

    Keep it up and thank you all for participating! I hope you’re having as much fun as I am! Remember you can post here or look at http://infinite-eph.blogspot.com.

    P.S. If anyone wants to write about a particular scene they like or wants to do an update during the week let me know by emailing me at cjf1@williams.edu. Thanks!

    P. P. S. This one is just for fun and not really about the book but I just saw Harry Potter and was thinking about Infinite Jest. Could it work as a movie? Not in the sense that you could have audiences sitting in the theater forever, but in the sense that some of these scenes are so cinematic and easy to visualize, could it work? A well-done BBC miniseries even? I don’t know.

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    Week 1 Update

    So we’re a little bit more than half way through the week, which means to be on pace you probably want to be around page 60 or so (if not you can always catch up). Here are just a few of my thoughts on the first half of the reading (don’t forget to post your own at some point!):

    • As a few people have mentioned, the answer to the trivia question is that Infinite Jest comes from Hamlet, specifically the scene where Hamlet speaks to the skull of one “Poor Yorick.” Have you seen that name anywhere in the book (the footnotes perhaps?). This Hamlet reference makes Hal’s whole relationship with his dead father more interesting (here’s a line: Hal in the ambulance says “I think of John N. R. Wayne, who would have one this year’s WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father’s head.” (17)) What could this mean? What’s going on? I don’t really know…
    • We’ve met a lot of different people already–Hal, Mario, Don Gately, the medical attache (just to name a few)–do you find anyone’s story particularly enjoyable? Moving? Interesting? Is there one you relate to more than the others?
    • On page 55 there is a line which I think sums up DFW’s reason for writing the book: “The reason being it’s a lot easier to fix something if you can see it.” What is he trying to show us? What needs fixing?

    Be sure to post your questions and comments whenever you get a chance, either here or at http://infinite-eph.blogspot.com. Hope the reading is going well, and don’t forget to check back on Wednesday for next week’s reading assignment and some more things to think about!

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    Infinite Ephs Week 1 (pgs 3-95)

    It’s time to start reading! Hopefully you’ve already picked up your copy of Infinite Jest. This week we’ll be reading pages 3-95 (don’t forget the footnotes), and here are a few things to start thinking about:

    • Hal is the first character we meet, and anyone who has been on any sort of interview knows what he’s going through in that first scene. But something odd is going on and we’re not quite sure what it is–why does the book open in this particular way? Does anything about scene cause us to read the book in any particular way?
    • The devil’s in the details! This book is so dense that it’s easy to miss how intricate it is as well. Be on the look out for words and images that pop up in multiple story lines (or in the footnotes). The first one that comes to mind is “spider” or spider-related words, but keep your eyes peeled (another example would be the filmography). What other words do you see popping up? And why might they be emphasized in this way?
    • And finally a trivia question: Does anyone know where the title Infinite Jest comes from? Why would that be important?

    Post any of your answers, comments or questions here  or on http://infinite-eph.blogspot.com as you read along and get the discussion going.

    Link corrected –93kwt as editor

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    Infinite Ephs Unite

    Hey Everyone,

    My name is Chris Fox ’11 and I am helping with Williams’ Summer Read-a-thon of Infinite Jest. I will be posting here on Ephblog as well as some other places (check out infinite-eph.blogspot.com, thanks to Dave for the title). Thank you so much to everyone for their help and support, and your comments and suggestions are always welcome. To start us off, I had a question for everyone taking part in Infinite Summer.

    On page 17 there’s a great line “So yo then man what’s your story?” The book is really about a lot of different stories so I wanted to ask everyone the same question. How did you decide to pick up Infinite Jest this summer? What draws you to the book? What’s your story?

    And since it’s only fair, here’s my story: I actually came upon the book by accident. I was ordering books for myself over winter break and ordered “Consider the Lobster” by David Foster Wallace and Barnes and Noble said “Books you might like” and indicated “Infinite Jest.” I ignored it and ordered a few other books (that I still have to read) and Barnes and Noble kept telling me that I might like this book “Infinite Jest.” So I read the description and it said the book was funny, thought provoking, and about entertainment–what more could I ask for? So I ordered it.

    A week later it came in the mail and I realized it was 1000+ pages long. I had no idea (obviously I was not paying attention when I was reading the description) and I immediately thought, I’ll wait till summer. When I got back to school I saw that it was on the syllabus for a class that I was taking (Epic and Mock Epic with the great Bob Bell) and I got really excited. But being a busy Williams student, I didn’t give Infinite Jest near as much attention as I would have liked and when I was contacted about Infinite Summer I was really excited to dive back into this book. It’s really a lot of fun and I hope you enjoy it.

    Now it’s your turn–what’s your story? Let us know and keep checking back. I’ll be posting page numbers and some questions to think about for this our first week of Williams Infinite Summer! Happy reading!

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    Infinite Eph

    There seems to be a group of Ephs reading Infinite Jest this summer. If they want more participation, they ought to crosspost at EphBlog.

    As best I can tell, they currently have no more than one participant . . .

    UPDATE:

    Chris Fox ’11, who seems to be the student leading the effort, has kindly accepted my invitation to crosspost at EphBlog. Suggestions:

    1) Start again. If you want to attract more than one or two participants, then you will want to start the project again. There must be (?) at least 5 EphBlog readers who would find this a fun project, but they will want to start at the beginning. You also need to give them time to buy the book.

    2) Check out our previous experiments in on-line learning. If an Eph reading of Infinite Jest could be even 1/5 as successful as our CGCL, that would still be an impressive achievement. Note that recruiting different people to give their take on specific chapters is a helpful way to build up the community of participants.

    3) Do it someplace besides Facebook, although updates to Facebook are fine. EphBlog would be happy to host the project, but the Williams Blogs could also be used. Leveraging the EphBlog community is highly recommended.

    3) Try to partner with some other folks. Why not recruit the Ephs on the Williams Expedition? They will have a lot of time for reading. I would also try to recruit some Williams professors. Bob Bell is the obvious person to start with and he might also have some good suggestions.

    Good luck! Let us know what we can do to help.

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